Seven Things About My New Job

This is my first Monday in the library, and the beginning of my third week as a middle school librarian. I’ve had several questions — from my new coworkers as well as from commenters on the DYHJ Facebook page — about how it’s going, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my new job.

1. No one would ever believe how bustling and busy this library is. I’ve never seen anything like it. When they release the barbarian hoards from the cafeteria before school, probably a hundred kids rush into the library, and we’re still checking out books for the “it’s worth it to be tardy if I can get this book” crowd after the first bell rings. That’s small potatoes compared to break, when the library fills wall-to-wall with children. Even with two people manning the circulation desk, we can’t get through the line before break ends. It’s standing room only with kids reading, visiting, playing chess and checkers, or watching other kids playing. Sixth grade lunch passes are the most coveted property on campus. In a normal week there are 40 class periods; we have 39 different classes who come in each week or every other week to check out books, not including classes who will eventually schedule library time for special projects. The library has only been open for book check-out for a week, and we currently have almost 1,700 books in circulation (and a great many items on hold). This library is alive and it’s awesome.

2. Did I mention that the vast majority of our library patrons are boys? Because they are. Our library is stuffed from bell to bell with 11 to 14-year-old boys. How cool is that? And we don’t even let them play computer games!

3. I’m working with special education students for the first time. I know that sounds odd, considering I taught for five years, but as a secondary English teacher I rarely worked with students whose special needs were severe enough to require out-of-mainstream classes. I worked with many students on the autism spectrum — but only very highly functioning kids — and only ever had two with significant cognitive or physical impairment. The students in our special education classes here spend a lot of time in the library, and I’m finding myself very lucky to be getting to know them. We have an entire wall of picture books, and many of these kiddos zero in on them, but others are really fond of the illustrated nonfiction books and will check out volume after volume on their favorite subject (usually animals). I watch their teachers and aides working with them and I still feel astonished at their ability to help, guide, and instruct these students — but as I get to know them, I can understand why a person would love that career!

4. I get to go shopping. For books. With someone else’s money. What a great gig, right? In fact, we had a bit of a windfall this year, which means that I get to really go to town updating our nonfiction section to include CCSS-connected informational texts, and adding the latest and greatest to our fiction and graphic novel sections. I’m about to place a sizeable order, as a matter of fact. The flip side of this coin is that I get to/have to read a lot of middle-level books now, as I need to adjust to and keep up with the current middle level literature. I had some vague idea that I’d be reading as a part of my job, but I’ve yet to see an opportunity to just sit down with a novel while I’m on the clock. So, I’ve always got reading “homework” even when I don’t necessarily want to read something at the PG level… Talk about your problems 😉

5. I’m not 100% certain where I fit in the school. I am paid as a teacher, am certified as a teacher, and even get observed and evaluated like a teacher (although I’ll be darned if I can figure out what criteria will be used for that, given the fact that I have relatively little organized student contact). On the emergency phone tree, though, I’m one of the people responsible for calling a list of teachers — keeping company with the administrators and counselors. The library is connected to the main office suite, set apart from the classrooms. I interact more often with administration than with teachers, and my duties are far more administrative than educational, most days. So what am I? A teacher librarian? A library adminstrator? This school’s social structure doesn’t lend itself toward ambiguity in this area….

6. I like my new job, but I miss my old life. In fact, I really like my new job. I love my coworkers, and I love getting to do nothing but think about books all day long (haha, that’s a joke, because we’re so busy I don’t have time to think about anything, much less books!). But I have to be fair to myself and acknowledge that in leaving, I left behind all of my friends and a career that never felt like “a job.” I have over a thousand students now instead of the 170-180 about which I used to complain, and I’m getting to where I recognize a handful of them and know a few names, but I’m not going to feel close to these kiddos in the same way that I did my most sympatico high school students. I miss bantering with my nerdy almost-adults in the ITE program, or waxing eloquent about archetypes in science fiction films from the past fifty years, or scandalizing seniors by introducing them to phallic and yonic symbols and pointing them out in classical literature. I don’t miss grading essays, feeling afraid of surly male students three times my size, wondering how to teach a lesson without printer ink/photocopies, or dealing with the latest student suicide attempt, juvenile detention, pregnancy, or conveniently-timed “miscarriage.” But I sorely miss hanging out in the teacher breakroom in the English wing, chatting with my friends about everything from Chaucer to church gossip, comparing pregnancies and babies, throwing our collective hands up in the air over the latest catastrophe to befall the district. CHS was one of my homes, and it’s hard (and surreal) to not be there any more, and to know how very different it is than it used to be — because even if I were still at CHS, it wouldn’t be the same CHS, because so many people have gone their separate ways.

7. Sometimes it is really hard to keep a straight face around twelve-year-olds. Without going into too many details, I had to confront a boy who was downloading inappropriate photos on a library computer, and the excuse he gave me — well, let’s just say that it’s been entertaining the staff here for the past couple of days!

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Back to School

Well, I survived my first week (technically a week and a half, but only four days of that was with students) as a middle school librarian!

This past Monday we didn’t have students, and because of an annoying scheduling fluke with day care (H will go to an actual day care center on Mondays) he ended up coming to work with me that day.

Lucky duck gets to make spreadsheets in his jammies.

Lucky duck gets to make spreadsheets in his jammies.

You're fired!

You’re fired!

He definitely has a village that loves him and wants to help raise him! Between all of the ladies at church, and everyone at school, he’s a very cared-about little kiddo.

Speaking of being loved, I’m a pretty lucky lady. R, who (for those of you who might not know) teaches at the same school as I, has always surprised me with flowers on the first day of school when I go to a new school. Tuesday was no exception as he employed two of the school’s administrators and various other staff members to distract me so that he could load up my desk with welcoming gifts:

Beautiful flowers in our school colors.

Beautiful flowers in our school colors.

School-colored watch straps!

School-colored watch straps!

School logo jewelry! Apparently our school shares a logo with Burberry, and R found an Etsy artist who repurposes Burberry buttons into jewelry!

School logo jewelry! (Sorry for the terrible photo quality.) Apparently our school shares a logo with Burberry, and R found an Etsy artist who repurposes Burberry buttons into jewelry!

The only word I can come up with for not being a classroom teacher is “surreal.” The first day, in particular, was a little bizarre to me; I kept feeling like a guest in someone else’s school, like I was just visiting and helping out before going back to my own classroom. The children seemed so tiny and young. I ended the day without having lost my voice. Nothing about it felt like the first day of school to me. I really loved being a classroom teacher, and it’s going to be quite an adjustment to slip into a role that feels a little bit more administrative.

As the week went on, things got busier and busier, and I found my rhythm. It’s still weird, but it has gone from feeling surreal to feeling pretty nice. I’m getting excited (all over again) about some ideas and upcoming events. I love my coworkers. And let me just say how nice it is to be going BACK to a school I already know, rather than going to an entirely new place. I always struggle to find my place socially, and here I feel like the worst of that is over.

One of my amazing assistants, B, came up with the idea of highlighting the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington in our end-cap displays. I found several MLK biographies and books about the March and about the Civil Rights Movement. I’m not sure if any of the kids got it, but I thought it was pretty neat and a subtle way to bring current events into the library.

We also made a display of some of the newest books in the library, which gave me some practice in reviewing past orders. I’m having a lot of on-the-job, on-the-fly training in different programs and systems and databases, and surely am thankful for my staff and their expertise and patience.

new books

There’s SO much to learn. As the Library Media Specialist, I’m not only the “book person” but also Level One Tech Support for the school. Everyone comes to us with their basic technology problems. One day, for example, we had four distinct problems with document cameras; we have frequent printer problems, issues with projectors, and — thanks to a district-wide software update — questions about how to use Microsoft 365. And it’s not as if we have consistent equipment from one classroom to the next, so I have to learn 3-4 different solutions to every problem. On top of that, of course, there’s just simply all of the details of working the library. No chance to get bored here!

It could all be a little intimidating, but honestly, nothing else is quite as intimidating as the faculty restroom nearest the library. What if it occurred unexpectedly? Are there alarms? Consequences? Such anxiety!

Even if I didn’t love my job (which I do) it would be worth it, though, to be able to walk in my front door at the end of the day and be able to spend my evening with Henry instead of grading mountains of papers or planning hours of instruction. I guess I ought to feel a little wussy or something for saying that, and I certainly don’t mean to downplay how surprisingly difficult librarianship is, but you know, I’m just at a different point in my life right now, and I’ve never believed in prioritizing work over family.

I don’t have to explain “leaving my baby to go to work” to anyone who has ever had to do it, and if you haven’t, I’m not sure I could do it justice. It wasn’t quite as hard as I’d feared, probably because he was staying with family — we are SO lucky. But it wasn’t what I’d call easy, and it made for a less enthusiastic back-to-school on my part. I’ve also found pumping to be (predictably) a PITA, but I might write more about that later. One thing about it: I’m a lot better about getting my work done within contract hours so that I can leave on time, now that I have a baby to get home to!

IMG_4637

Final verdict: I’m happy. It is different, and I miss CHS. But it is different in good ways, and it is right for me right now. I’m going to be challenged, I’m going to get to know a lot of great books and great kids, and hey, maybe I’ll even do some good for the universe. I’ve already decided that in addition to my Nerdfighteria mantra (don’t forget to be awesome) I’m going to bring in a little Jeffiness and make it my mission to make the library a place of sweetness and light for my students (all 1,000+ of them!) and my fellow staff members.

Oh, and I’m going to be eating my elephant one bite at a time, too. Mmmm, elephant. 🙂

From Where I’m Sitting

I am sitting in a chair at the desk that will be my home base for the foreseeable future. The chair is not particularly comfortable but is a vast improvement over the ergonomic nightmare I had behind my last desk. On my to-do list is to consider bringing over one of the extra office chairs from my house; it’s just taking up room there, and I think I’d actually have room for it in this office, whereas it would have been too much in my classroom.

From this seat, I can see pretty much the entire library. The only blind spot is the tutoring table and part of the computer lab. I can also see out the impressive wall of windows facing onto McMillan; it’s trying to blow up a windstorm, but the sun is shining through the weather, making everything kind of soft and yellow-filtered. The sprinklers are on, and the wind is shattering the sprinkler bursts into ineffectual splatter patterns. There are green trees out there, blowing in the wind. There’s also a Taco Del Mar, a Jamba Juice, and two — two — Starbucks across the street. One of the saddest things about my last school was that there was no coffee anywhere nearby.

Behind me, on the floor, H is lying on a quilt making hooting little baby sounds that might or might not be in response to the Saxophobia CD playing softly in the background. In the last 24 hours he’s discovered that his feet are something that he can grab onto, although he doesn’t seem to be very good at catching them yet. At this point he still prefers his favorite toy: a lightweight burp cloth (basically a dish rag) or, lacking that, any handy piece of fabric that he can grab onto and cuddle up under his chin. I’ve been trying to give him some tummy time, but it’s become impossible; once I put him on his belly, he stays there for at most thirty seconds before rolling back over onto his back. He seems delighted at this new-found control over his life situation. Behold! I need not submit to the indignity of lying on my stomach if I choose not to!

If you’re in the mood for some metablogging, here’s a photograph of my desktop, in which you can clearly see this blog entry being written:

desktop

And here’s a picture of what’s behind me:

shelves

I probably need to go through the magazines, catalogs, and toppled-over binders on the right side of those shelves and figure out if I want/need all of it, and straighten it up a bit.

I’m going to have to figure out the whole pumping/storing situation. Those lovely office windows that let me see the entire library mean that the entire library can see me. Behind those shelves is another little area that I think I’ll be able to use as a private corner, but it’s going to involve signage and what seems to me to be an awkward conversation with my assistants. And these book carts are going to need to find another place to be corralled….

This is going to be a sea change but I’m looking forward to it. Yesterday, when I saw someone else’s name on my door at the high school, and when I took my keys off the lanyard and turned them in, I was feeling a little melancholy about the whole thing. But if there’s one thing I’m good at/bad about, it’s introspection; I know that it’s just hard to feel how much I’ll love this job because I haven’t actually started doing it. That’s why, even though I probably should have been doing laundry today, I came in to the library instead. It helps to be here, getting my desk together, daydreaming about displays and projects and promotions and even the day-to-day grind of it all.

These are good things. Now, as I wrap up this post, I’m holding H in my lap. Makes typing a little tougher, but then again, I have years of practice with pushy cats. (That said, I’ve never had a cat repeatedly kick the space bar or suck on my arm while I’m typing.) I can lean over and kiss the top of his head between sentences. On the far side of the library is a picture book section for special education students and other needs; H thinks it’s his section, though.

And now I’m all drooled on…. so I think I’m going to wrap things up for now. More to come. 🙂

Transitioning

We’re (at least) halfway through the summer, so it’s time for me to get off my sit-upon and make the transition from being a teacher at one school to being a librarian at another. That means a lot of boxing things up and sorting things out (one of those jobs that seems easy enough until you walk in the room and discover how Sisyphean it truly is) in a room that is devoid of air conditioning. Bittersweet sort of thing.

It also means meeting with the erstwhile librarian to learn the ropes (or as much as I can learn without actually doing). I’m excited and a little overwhelmed — there is a lot to learn, and a lot I want to do that may constitute biting off more than I can chew. I have to ease into this whole thing and prioritize what I learn to do!

It’s a beautiful space. I’ve been in a couple of times with R and have been trying to settle into the idea that these are my new digs:

I need to get back up to speed on middle-level literature after several years in a high school. Fortunately, I have a great big room full of books written for middle school kids at my fingertips.

WatchedI started off by reading Wonder, a very good book recommended to me by the principal, a counselor, and the outgoing librarian. Really a beautiful book; I’m going to try to get R to read it, if he’ll find some time away from his computer-reading. I’d like to write about it here if I find the time and energy.

CrossedNow I’m reading Crossed (book 2 in the Matched trilogy, which I started with my book club). It’s suffering a bit from SITS (Second Installment in the Trilogy Syndrome) but I still want to finish the trilogy. I’ve got the third book on standby but may read something else in between, depending on how Crossed ends.

After that, I’m either going to read Palace of Stone (the sequel to Princess Academy, which I read on audio book a couple of years ago) or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. And then I probably need to pick a good old-fashioned Book for Boys Who Don’t Necessarily Always Love Reading. Any recommendations from my teacher/reader/librarian pals?

I took a look at the fiction stacks and found that there are about 160 shelves (actually around 165, but some are very short and are made up entirely of very specialized series). I think I’d like to challenge myself to read one book from each of the shelves in the next year, which seems like an enormous undertaking except that middle-level books are pretty fast reads for me. If I really put my mind to it I could clear one a day, but I’m not going to hold myself to that since I know I’m going to have all kinds of responsibilities, duties, etc. with this job on top of being a mama.

Of course, I might occasionally want to read a grown-up book, too… I’ve got Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World as Stage on hand, and in the process of weeding my home library I came across several books that I’d purchased ages ago and never got around to reading. Plus, as soon as I can get an affordable copy, I’ve got to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. (Plus there’s book club — and I’m giving a little bit of thought to joining a second book club — so I have at least one outside book a month to read.) So I’m not going to formally throw down the “160 middle-level books before June” gauntlet or anything… but I’m going to sort of generally aim myself in that direction and see what happens. At the very least, arbitrarily pointing myself at different shelves will expose me to books I might not necessarily choose otherwise.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

One of my former students shared this image with me when I asked Facebook for a map back to my comfort zone after my third of three interviews.

One of my former students shared this image with me when I asked Facebook for a map back to my comfort zone after my third of three interviews.

Today I accidentally left my comfort zone in a big way… teach me to open my big mouth on Facebook! 🙂

It all started this morning when, in response to this story, I posted the following on Facebook:

I am one of the 150. While I have multiple reasons for leaving, the BIG one is fear that my district has not only become a sinking ship but that no lifeboats have been provided for its students and teachers — none of whom contributed to the crash. For too long we’ve tried to do more and more with less and less, with only the promise of more hardship in the future. As hard as NSD teachers and admins are working to try to provide a good education to children, at a certain point it fails to be possible. Eventually, there is no more milk to squeeze from the stone. I LOVED working at Columbia, but how long can I go on working 50-80 hour weeks on an insultingly low salary without enough photocopies to make two assignments for every one of my students? How many more “oops, another missing million” announcements should I weather, knowing that in the end the ones who will suffer for these “oops” moments will be those in the classroom?

And the idea that, in this day and age, a TEACHER in AMERICA should be denied six measly weeks of 2/3-pay maternity leave… it is criminal. Six weeks of paid maternity leave is laughably stingy on a global basis, and has mothers returning to work at a crucial stage in infant development — but at least it was a nice token. If NSD takes away short term disability from its employees, the message is pretty clear: it no longer thinks of its employees as human beings, and is no longer a suitable place for teachers — and is increasingly no longer a suitable place for students.

Teachers aren’t asking for anything more than the basics they need to take care of their children — those in their classrooms and in their own homes. Anyone who thinks that robbing teachers of basic human dignity won’t affect the students is ignorant at best.

I guess that was the equivalent of calling a press conference, because my friend at Channel 6 and then my friend at Channel 7 both contacted me, wondering if I would go on camera and talk about why I was leaving. As I’d already planned to be packing up my classroom that afternoon, they were pretty excited to catch a teacher actually in the act of leaving.

(I felt weird talking to two different channels! Not only did it feel like a press conference, but I worried a bit about whether exclusivity was an issue. To be fair, I didn’t know I’d be contacted by Channel 7 when I talked to Channel 6, and I warned Channel 7 that Channel 6 got to me first.)

You know, I’m not the least bit intimidated by public speaking. Give me a microphone and an auditorium full of people and I’m just fine. But put me in front of a video camera, even when it is manned by someone I’ve known for over a decade, and I turn into a hot mess! I was so sweaty, felt like a moron, and had an upset stomach after it was all over. And then I spent most of the evening worrying that someone was going to be angry at me. I am definitely not cut out to be a politician….

Anyway, I’m on Channel 6 here: http://www.kivitv.com/news/local/214994641.html

And I’m on Channel 7 — with Henry and Ryan for a moment! — here: http://www.ktvb.com/news/More-teachers-leaving-Nampa-School-District-than-years-past-214996611.html

Ch-ch-ch-changes, or, How I Unexpectedly Became More Like Noah Wyle

Noah Wyle is The Librarian

As I approached the beginning of my maternity leave at Columbia, I negotiated with my administrators to take a 2/3-time contract the following year. This would allow me to come to work every other day (we’re on block schedule) teaching four classes instead of six; I could then stay home every other day with my baby, saving on child care costs (but more importantly, being with my baby).

(Because, you see, as it turns out, I wish I could just stay home with him entirely… I’m a wee bit addicted…)

Everything was all good to go. Then, the creeping blackness that is my district’s financial situation reared its ugly head, and the new new superintendent (three in one year! ah ah ah) put the kibosh on all 2/3-time contracts. This left me between a rock and a hard place: take a half-time contract, which would constitute a significant cut to my pay (because, on top of fewer salary hours, my benefits wouldn’t be subsidized as much), or take a full-time contract and make alternate arrangements for child care. I couldn’t really afford the former, and the latter — especially when I faced the specter of teaching five different high school classes, all but two of which would be entirely new content (and new lesson planning) — made me despair.

Then, in a beautiful Hollywood sort of plot twist, another window opened. Ryan’s school — LSMS, the first school I’d taught at full time — was going to need a librarian the following year, and they’d thought of me. It was a long shot; I lacked the necessary endorsement, so I’d have to weather in-district transfers, then officially-qualified applicants, and — if they still hadn’t found someone better — get approved by the district and apply for alternate authorization. I was hopeful, but didn’t dare set my heart on it.

To shorten a longer story: a couple of weeks later, LSMS called and asked me to interview. It was a good interview, and a couple of days later, I was offered the job.

So it turns out that I’m going to be a librarian.

awesome!

This is pretty awesome in a lot of different ways. On the practical end of things, I will enjoy a pay raise and employment in a more stable district, not to mention one where the newly elected school board is pro-teacher and the community is pro-education. I won’t be lesson planning or grading essays, which means that instead of staying at work until 5 and then coming home and being consumed with my job instead of my home life, I can be done at the end of the day and go home to be a mom and wife. Additionally, I’ll be carpooling with my husband now, which means that we’ll save a ton of money on fuel/wear and tear, and that we can put off buying a second baby-friendly car for a while.

On the less practical side, I get to BE A LIBRARIAN. Now, I know there is a lot more to librarianship than the romanticized notion any bookworm nurtures, but at the end of the day, I’m going to be paid to play with books. I’ll get to pursue my passion of connecting kids with something that will capture their imagination and open up their worlds. I’ll get to build bridges between students and information that, hopefully, will support them through the rest of their education lives.

I’ll also be in charge of the school yearbook (awesome) which comes with a stipend (double awesome). I’ll have a staff of two wonderful women who will help me figure out what the heck I’m doing. I’ll have to (get to) take some classes over the course of the next couple of years. Another lovely thing is that I already know a great many of the teachers and staff at LSMS, so while I’ll still be transitioning to a new job, I won’t be completely at square one socially.

It isn’t all awesome, of course. It is really extremely hard for me to walk away from Columbia. I have been happier there than in any other job I’ve ever held; I will miss my friends there terribly. I mean, I know that I’m not moving to another state or anything, but it’s different when you don’t see each other on a daily basis. Friendships don’t stay the same. I will also miss my students; they’re only in my life for a short time, four years at the most, but I do love my high school kids and will miss working with them. I especially regret leaving behind my ITE students; it’s been a rare gift to work with that crew of nerdy, brilliant kids. And it kind of sucks to have gone to all that work to develop courses like my Science Fiction class, only to walk away and leave it in the hands of someone who doesn’t really enjoy the genre. (The teacher they hired to replace me is — word of the day — awesome and I couldn’t be happier that they brought him in. It’s just hard to hand off your baby to someone else.) And there’s a small part of me that worries that I am in some way turning my back on something I’m “supposed” to do — that I’m giving up on the (hopefully good) work I was doing with teenagers.

At the end of the day, though, this was the right thing to do and I’m so happy (and slightly amazed) that it came to pass. It makes my future less clear; twenty years from now, will I be a librarian? an English teacher? a _____? But right now, I’m pretty darn okay with that ambiguity because the most important thing I’ll be is a mom, and this career shift is the best thing for me in that role.

Of course, now I have to pack up my classroom — no small task — and store my things, begin to learn how to be a librarian, and try to get the contents of my brain handed over to my replacement at CHS… yikes! I’ve been Pinning ideas and resources, and probably need to make a dedicated Pinterest account that I can organize better for library resources. I also need to start thinking about updating/rebuilding the library’s website with a dedicated URL and a platform that works on mobile devices.

I also need to get a big ole print of this photo made for my office (yep, I have an office):

Henry with Shakespeare

(He’s about two weeks old in this picture… amazing how much more he is at two months!)

Long Day

I’ve read in several different places humorous lists about how pregnant women are like giant toddlers, and tonight I proved the point. Driving home, I was simultaneously starving and did NOT want to eat anything, and then I started to cry because I was tired and hungry. Waaaaah!

Today was a long day preceded by a night of pretty spotty sleep. Got up at my usual 5:30 and really struggled to find anything to wear that was clean, not hate-worthy, and was dressy enough for parent-teacher conferences. Got dressed, prettified, and fed, then drove to work. I had figured that today would be a relatively easy day (during school hours, that is); I knew I was administering a test first hour that would take the entire period, figured the lesson I’d planned for my other classes would be relatively low-maintenance, and thought that — with the exception of half an hour for a performance evaluation meeting — my prep period would be some good quiet time to prepare for conferences, grade, and maybe even relax a little bit.

Well… first hour went as planned…

Then second hour hit, and everything fell to pieces. My relatively easy, self-directed assignment turned out to be harder than I thought. On top of that, in some sort of Epic Failure of teaching, I’d forgotten that my freshmen were unlikely to be on their best behavior or highest intelligence on the second-to-last day before Spring Break. Ergo: an 87-minute-long headache.

Prep turned out to be one of those prep periods where you’re never alone in your classroom and, while largely a very pleasant way to pass the time, not very restful or productive. About 20 minutes before my scheduled eval meeting, I realized I hadn’t yet visited the restroom or eaten anything. I hit the loo, got waylaid by another situation before I could get to the fridge, and ended up with only eight minutes to eat lunch before the meeting — so instead of cooking my entire lunch, I just grabbed a small snack. I figured that if my eval meeting went the amount of time intended, I’d have almost half an hour afterward to sit down and eat.

Ten minutes after my meeting was supposed to have started, I got a call saying they were running behind and would be there in twenty minutes. Then, more people in my classroom. Then, the meeting occurred. (It was great.) And then my fourth period class was banging on the door to be let in.

And fourth period was much… uh… more challenging than second. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we? Also, did you know that a group of turkeys is called a rafter?

Immediately after school: more people in my classroom.

Let me be clear: I am in no way complaining about all the visitors. It was awfully nice, and pretty much everyone I saw today brightened my day. But I never really had a chance to be “off,” which, as an introvert, I really need in order to recharge my batteries.

Quick dinner, followed by four hours of conferences — which, thank heavens, were very slow. I had only five families all night, so I got a lot of grading done and got some of that much-needed quiet time, although I could never completely relax because someone could come in at any moment. In honesty, I really like parent-teacher conferences, and the ones I had tonight were really good ones. But by the time the end of the day finally rolled around, I was pretty worn out.

Then I got stopped by construction for twenty minutes on a back road that no one ever drives on but me. Who knew they even did construction out there?

Kind of a long, pointless story, but that sort of reflects the day, so there you have it. I have several things I want to write about (strollers! baby showers! dinosaurs!) but none of that is happening tonight. It is time for me to turn off.

Putting out the Trash

trashFor the past couple of days, my freshmen have been doing a collaging activity, which is a teaching euphemism for “chopping up donated magazines and pasting them on printer paper.”

With few exceptions, the English teachers at my school have all new students this semester due to our new pilot program. I don’t know my new freshmen (three classes worth, all above capacity) very well yet, but it was immediately clear that I was going to have some classroom management “challenges” (which is a teaching euphemism for “stuff that really sucks”). One of my classes is under the thrall of a nasty ringleader; another class is a perfect storm of smart-alecky ne’er-do-wells who all feed off of each others’ poor behavior. The third class might be pretty okay except for the fact that they’ve crammed almost 40 kids into the room, and once that stampede starts there’s little I’ll be able to do to head it off.

For the duration of the collage lesson, I’ve been riding herd on these three clowders in an attempt to keep them working and, wherever possible, actually following the instructions. On top of that, I’ve had to ask, beg, direct, and threaten them to clean up their work areas. I’ve never had such a hard time getting students to clean up after themselves. I can walk up to a trio of kids and point directly at the garbage by their feet, ask them to pick it up, and they’ll pretend they don’t hear me. Piles of magazines left in chairs. Markers and rulers thrown under desks. Finally, I’ve succumbed to treating them like junior high kids and have made myself into a barricade across the door, refusing to let any/ of them leave when the bell rings until I’m satisfied with the condition of the room.

(“It’s not my mess.” Well, do you want to leave on time? Then you might ought to chip in.)

I am not entirely certain that freshmen are my thing.

Today, though, I was pleased to see that my nagging had paid off. The room wasn’t pristine or anything, but there was nothing horrifying left over after Hurricane Adolescence passed through. Then I looked at my magazine bin and saw that it had split down the side, spilling old copies of US News & World Report onto the carpet, so I decided to take a few minutes to switch out to a plastic bin and toss out the magazines that were no longer salvageable.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the box was half filled with garbage. Wadded up papers, tiny scraps, even broken pencils and candy wrappers. A crushed empty water bottle.

Blood pressure mounting, I spent about half an hour filling my garbage cans with freshman detritus. As I moved around the room, I found garbage in my bookcases, hidden under the textbooks under the desks, in the plastic shoebox with the colored pencils and — in a moment that will surely go down in history — stuffed into the shavings drawer of the electronic pencil sharpener.

I’m really not sure that freshmen are my thing.

I dragged my small garbage cans into the hall (they were too heavy for me to pick up) and sat down for a few minutes to work on the poetry packet for Contemporary Literature (a junior/senior class). Flipping through anthologies, my eyes fell on “Overworked” by Lucy Partlow:

After we
ovulate
menstruate
gestate
lactate
procreate
and prostrate ourselves to creation . . .

After we
raise children
raise grandchildren
raise men
raise hell
and raise the dead in tribal dance . . .

After we
clean house
clean clothes
clean collard greens
clean people’s stores
and clean up the aftermath of wars . . .

After we save souls
save schools
save trees
save whales
and save the world from eternal damnation . . .

After we do
the impossible
the improbable
the unthinkable . . .

Must we also put out the trash?

On first glance, I read it as a reflection on womanhood. Upon my second pass, I realized it could also be about teaching. Being a teacher is a sisyphean task, not only in terms of teaching and re-teaching content an endlessly rotating cast of students, but also of trying to help young people survive their world and themselves long enough to grow up.

The process of developing curriculum, units, and lessons is not unlike that of gestation and birth, accompanied by exhaustion, discomfort, fear, doubt, and impatience to see how it all turns out. We prostrate ourselves to the creation of lessons that meet ever-changing bureaucratic requirements and the needs of dizzyingly diverse students. We give of our lifeblood to nurture and nourish our students’ minds and even bodies.

We raise children when their parents can’t or won’t. We hope they take something of us with them when they leave our classes, that our influence will carry on into their future lives — that, perhaps, they will teach their descendents (biological or not) something we’ve taught them. We try to raise sloppy boys into men and snotty girls into women. We, protective lion(esse)s that we are, raise hell when our cubs are threatened. We, the storytellers and memory-keepers, dance the past into life.

Many of the best teachers I’ve known address teaching — knowingly or not — as a ministry. We know that, for some of these kids, we are the only thing they’ve got. We know that souls, if not being saved (fortunately, I can’t think of any teachers I know who have messiah complexes) are at least being shielded and fed. Good teachers are activists, some quiet and some not; they’re shepherds and counselors and paladins. Good teachers fight for the future, on a small scale — each student’s next year — and, when they aren’t too exhausted to think about it, on a global scale.

Every day, I see my colleagues do little bitty things that are impossible, improbable, unthinkable. Most days, we’re talking grains of sand… but over the course of a career, individual grains of sand build dunes.

And of course, we put out the trash.

Literally, with cuts to custodial staff due to budget problems, we take out our own garbage and are given economy-sized bottles of Spic-n-Span so that we can disinfect our own classrooms.

Figuratively, we deal with the day-to-day garbage of an overextended system, the environmental garbage of a society that doesn’t (or can’t) value education, and the rising tide of political garbage that threatens to flush stressed and disgusted educators out of the system.

Nightly, we drag our carcasses home after a long day of raising other peoples’ children and trying to save the world, and if we’re able, we leave the garbage of the day at the curb before we walk in to our homes.

Don’t paint pictures of teachers in capes, turning thugs into academics through the power of hip-hop and street toughs. Sketch them, instead, with a garbage can full of magazine clippings, closing the door to an almost-tidy classroom behind them until the next morning.